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Everything you need to know about teaching English abroad

A girl is teaching English abroad to a group of people.

Each year, more and more young people are ditching their hometowns and flocking to foreign lands. Abundant jobs, competitive salaries, and the chance to see the world make this sector highly appealing and deeply rewarding.

Teaching English in a foreign country is one of the most feasible ways to see the world. Most positions include accommodation, airfare and a monthly salary. The only thing you have to do is get a TEFL certification, apply for the job, and hop on a plane.

If this sounds like a dream come true, there are a few things to keep in mind before you dive in…

A street in a Chinese town with tables and chairs, perfect for teaching English abroad.

Teaching English is not a vacation

Let’s start with the most important thing you need to know: teaching English is a job and it is hard work. Plus, there are dozens of kids who are counting on you to do it well. You cannot show up hungover or without a lesson plan – you’ll just get fired.

But, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun! Songs, games, and videos all go down extremely well with school children. Plus, you’ll have weekends and holidays to travel around the country or neighbouring nations. Adopt a work hard, play hard mentality and you’ll be just fine.

A group of children posing for a photo in a sugar free classroom.

Every Country Has its Own Teaching Style

Japanese students are used to rote learning. This means teachers repeat lessons and ideas and students memorize them. In Colombia, there is a greater focus on creativity and interactive learning. Every country does it differently.

Students generally respond to teaching styles they are familiar with. Ask a Japanese student to get too creative or independent and you may embarrass them. Force your Colombian students to rote learn and you will bore them to tears. Don’t worry, you will quickly pick this up on the job.

Understand Your Motivation For Teaching and Develop a Strategy

If the aim of your game is to make a lot of money teaching abroad, go to Japan or South Korea and live frugally. Monthly wages for English teachers in these countries can exceed $2,000 with flights and accommodation included. Coupled with the reasonable cost of living in these countries, plenty of people finish up their year of teaching with at least $10,000 USD in the bank.

Alternatively, your motivation might be to learn the local language or simply to get some teaching experience. Whatever you want to get out of your year abroad, figure it out in advance and develop a plan at the very beginning to help you achieve your goals.

A view of a river with mountains in the background, ideal for teaching English abroad.

Lesson plans are only guidelines

No matter how rigorously you prepare your lesson plans, there will be days where nothing goes to plan. Some days you need to read the room and adjust. That doesn’t mean throwing you plan out of the window the second your students start chatting. But, it does mean you need to be flexible.

If the exercise you planned is the teaching equivalent of smacking your head against a brick wall, stop. Reinvigorate your class with a game and try again. Or shelve it for another day. Keeping the energy up in the classroom and being flexible and dynamic are crucially important.

You have to earn your students’ respect

It is a fatal mistake to think that you will automatically be respected because you are the teacher. Think back to your school days. Which teachers did you like and dislike? It is hard to strike a balance between authoritarian and likeable. You don’t want to be a dictator, but you also don’t want to be a pushover.

My advice is to lay down the law on day one. Crack jokes, smile lots and make your students feel comfortable, but treat bad behaviour seriously. Remember, you are their teacher, not their friend and it is important to make this distinction clear.

Building up a support network is essential

One of the most comforting things to know if you have had a bad day at school or feel lost and clueless is that you are not alone. Plenty of people teaching English abroad have come with little or no experience so you are all in the same boat.

Talking to your colleagues, asking questions or even having a little rant to get things off your chest are all fine. Everyone knows what you are going through and no-one would ever pretend teaching is easy. You will have times when you want to throw in the towel and walk away. That’s normal. Having a support network will help pull you through the tough times and give you people with whom you can celebrate your good days.

Teaching English abroad may end up being one of the best years of your life. But, it is up to you to make that happen. Be enthusiastic, don’t shy away from challenges, and keep an open mind. With all that positive energy, your year is guaranteed to be a success.



A smoky Chinese food stall.